Berkeley Lab Research News


Agreement Puts Berkeley Lab at Supercomputing Forefront

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By Jon Bashor,

April 2, 1997

BERKELEY, CA -- The National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) today announced an agreement with Cray Research to create the most powerful unclassified computing center in the country.

The agreement calls for upgrading NERSC's 160-processor CRAY T3E supercomputer to a 512-processor T3E-900 model. Located at Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), NERSC is home to five other CRAY supercomputers and will have a combined computational capacity of 500 gigaflops (a gigaflop is one billion calculations per second) once the new machine goes online next summer.

"Since NERSC was moved to Berkeley Lab last year, our goal has been to provide the highest performance computing capability to our users in order to enable scientific discovery," said NERSC Director Horst Simon. "With the T3E-900 coming on line, we'll not only achieve that mission, but we'll continue to help define the future shape of scientific computing."

The new computer will be an enhanced configuration of the CRAY T3E delivered to Berkeley Lab last fall. Since its delivery, that machine has been subject to rigorous testing by the NERSC staff and cooperative improvement efforts by both Cray and the center.

"We worked closely with Cray to make sure the machine they delivered met all of our expectations," said Bill Kramer, head of High Performance Computing for NERSC. "In the process, we came up with a lot of solutions that will benefit all users of CRAY T3E computers."

In conjunction with the announcement about the new machine, Berkeley Lab also completed formal acceptance of the 160-processor T3E computer. The total cost of purchasing the CRAY T3E supercomputer and upgrading it to a "900" is $24 million.

"We are extremely pleased to have reached this milestone," said Robert "Bo" Ewald, vice president of Silicon Graphics, Inc. and president of Cray Research, its supercomputing subsidiary. "We have always been excited to be part of the groundbreaking research that these scientists are conducting. Now, with this new CRAY T3E-900 supercomputer, NERSC will provide its users with a powerful production supercomputing environment that gives them an entirely new level of insight into their research challenges."

Early users of Berkeley Lab's CRAY T3E are seven teams of scientists at various national laboratories and universities tackling "grand challenges" ranging from treating nuclear waste to understanding the human genome, from understanding quarks and gluons and other exotic forms of matter formed in the wake of the "Big Bang" to creating the next generation of particle accelerators.

Greg Kilcup, a physicist at The Ohio State University and the first scientist to run an experiment on Berkeley Lab's T3E last fall, said the added capability will be useful in his particle physics research field called "Lattice QCD Theory," which models particles in four dimensions. Kilcup and others are trying to understand the behavior of tiny particles, such as quarks and gluons -- the building blocks of protons and neutrons. Kilcup is using computer calculations to model quantum processes in what to a layperson's eye is an empty space, but is actually "a whole turbulent sea of particles appearing and disappearing." To see a visualization of Kilcup's research on NERSC to date, visit:

"It's a complicated, non-linear system and using the NERSC computer to simulate the whole process of particles changing is our only recourse to solving this theory," Kilcup said. "Once we can do these calculations, Lattice QCD theory is poised to play an even larger role in explaining particle physics."

As a result of the successful joint efforts to enhance the system software and hardware for Berkeley Lab's T3E, Silicon Graphics-Cray Research will install a 64-processor CRAY Origin 2000 supercomputer at NERSC for a year.

"This agreement, and the resulting benefits to the supercomputing community are a testimony to the expertise and dedication of our staff, as well as commitment by Cray to ensure that their machines remain at the leading edge," Kramer said. "The bottom line is that over the lifetime of our T3E, we'll be able to offer greater capacity and capabilities to our user community. It's a good deal all the way around."

Once fully configured, the CRAY T3E-900 supercomputer will offer 1.5 terabytes of disc storage, a read/write capability of 800 megabytes per second and 128 gigabytes of memory.

NERSC, established in 1974, provides high performance and computing and networking services to DOE's Energy Research programs at national laboratories, universities and industry. The facility has been located at Berkeley Lab since May 1996.

Berkeley Lab is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory located in Berkeley, CA. It conducts unclassified research and is managed by the University of California.

Cray Research, the supercomputing subsidiary of Silicon Graphics, Inc., provides supercomputing tools and services to help solve customers' most challenging problems.

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